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New Zoo

The Minnesota Zoo has never had gorillas, lions, elephants, or rhinos—and still won’t after its first permanent African exhibit opens this month. But does that matter anymore?



(page 1 of 2)

At a recent meet-and-greet held by the Minnesota Zoo, a host of its most monied backers mingled at the Minneapolis Club—far from the animals in Apple Valley. They breakfasted on eggs and sausage amid dark-paneled walls and oil paintings, looking up now and then at a PowerPoint presentation led by the zoo’s director, Lee Ehmke. Eventually, Ehmke paused on a slide depicting lions, gorillas, and the quarterback Brett Favre. What did the animals and the aging athlete have in common? Ehmke explained that they were all large, crowd-pleasing animals, or—in zookeeper’s parlance—“charismatic mega-vertebrates.”

Since the zoo opened, in 1978, it has often been faulted for its distinct lack of such beasts, the sort that visitors to many other zoos take for granted: elephants, rhinoceroses, and yes, lions and gorillas. The Minnesota Zoo has even been accused of not “being complete,” as one legislator put it years ago, raising questions of what a contemporary zoo should look like.

At the meet-and-greet, Ehmke, who has run the zoo since 2000, offered a simple explanation for the big animals’ absence: They’re expensive, both to acquire and to keep, especially African animals and particularly in Minnesota’s climate. The zoo has an annual operating budget of only about $19 million, supplied in part by a fickle state legislature—much less than the budget of other Midwestern zoos, such as those in St. Louis and Milwaukee. “We’re a small-market group,” Ehmke told the zoo’s backers.

But what if the zoo could become more than the sum of its smallish parts? Continuing the slide show, Ehmke flipped to images of the species that will be showcased in “Faces of the African Forest,” opening this month as the zoo’s first permanent exhibit of African animals. Zoo officials say the attraction will be a model, in some ways, for future zoo exhibits and could goose attendance this summer to a record high. The animals include two species of monkeys, fruit bats, rock hyrax (gopher-like creatures), dwarf crocodiles, and Ehmke’s favorite—red river hogs.

From his office at the zoo, Lee Ehmke can see the facility’s empty and crumbling whale tank, a reminder of the zoo’s controversial relationship with big animals. The zoo opened in what many zoo directors now refer to as the “utopian period” of zoo-building, characterized by wide-open, natural spaces—“500 acres and a monorail,” Ehmke muses. It was a reaction to the tile-and-bars aesthetic of many zoo exhibits at the time, such as the Milwaukee Zoo’s quarters for Samson, the largest gorilla ever in captivity: a linoleum cell with a glass wall that he would vigorously assault with all of his 650 pounds. The Minnesota Zoo was conceived as the area’s “new zoo,” in contrast to St. Paul’s Como Zoo, which was smaller and more old-fashioned at the time. It was designed to be, at 485 acres, the most spacious, modern exhibition in the country and planners estimated that the concept would easily draw 2.5 million visitors annually—4 million by the year 2000—and become self-sustaining within a few years.

The execution was less impressive. Only a third of the proposed exhibits were ever built. The contemporary concrete architecture was beyond stark—“Brutalist,” Ehmke calls it—and visitors had difficulty spotting the animals, lounging deep in their pens. Moreover, the creatures were largely unexotic: deer, raccoons, and the like. The zoo’s most charismatic animals, introduced at the opening, were two beluga whales. After they were shipped to the San Diego Zoo in 1987 for health reasons, attendance—which had never topped 1 million visitors—went into a free fall.

In a 1987 report, zoo officials argued that within the “conservation-minded framework” of progressive zoos, “the absence of some of the charismatic mega-vertebrates will no longer be perceived as a deficiency.” Whales, gorillas, rhinos—“All real big, exciting animals,” an official clarified—wouldn’t be missed. But legislators felt duped. When the zoo instead proposed an exhibit of insects, lawmakers declared that the institution had succumbed to “academic elitism.” Governor Rudy Perpich called for the zoo to be spun off as a nonprofit business.

Ehmke can empathize: “No one wants to walk a mile to maybe see a deer,” he says. He was hired a decade ago to add some “wow appeal,” as he put it at the time, to the zoo’s exhibits. Laid-back, with a wry sense of humor, he comes across as more intellectual than idealist. And it was clear he had nothing against charismatic mega-vertebrates: As an exhibit designer at the Bronx Zoo, he’d created its signature attraction, the Congo Gorilla Forest, featuring, well, gorillas—lots of them.

Ehmke is now slowly reversing the Minnesota Zoo’s old layout, creating so-called “immersive exhibits” that draw animals closer to visitors by means of food, heated rocks, and other enticements. For “Russia’s Grizzly Coast,” a $24 million fantasia that opened in 2008, he brought in Amur leopards and grizzly bears, luring them so close to the viewing glass that the bears’ massive heads are occasionally pressed against it. Last year, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums declared “Russia’s Grizzly Coast” the best new exhibit in the country, and attendance spiked by 15 percent over 2008 to a record 1.35 million visitors. Attendance has now increased 40 percent in the last five years, and legislators are pleased: Over the last several years, they’ve awarded the zoo some $66 million, including $21 million this year.

But Ehmke can’t afford to stock every new exhibit with bears or equally large equivalents. Nor does he believe it’s always necessary. “It’s not just about having the crowd pleasers,” he says, echoing the zoo’s former insect proponents. Like them, he believes that contemporary zoos should be in the business of conservation as much as entertainment, helping preserve animals in the wild as well as at home. “All great zoos are committed to taking on the bigger conservation issues of the world,” says Ehmke, “and we want to be perceived as a great zoo.” Going a step further, he says, “If you take away the conservation part, I’m not sure there would be a good reason to have zoos.”
 

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Where:
Franconia Sculpture Park
29836 St. Croix Trail
Shafer, MN  55074
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Sponsor: Franconia Sculpture Park
Telephone: 651-257-6668
Website »

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The tool set for communicating with your customers has changed for the better. Social media plays a large role in customer service, sales, and marketing – and it is growing faster than any...

Cost: Free

Where:
Checkerboard Strategic Web Development, Inc.
350 W Burnsville Parkway
Suite 350
Burnsville, MN  55337
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Minnesota Fringe Festival is proud to present our 174 acts, performed by both local and international touring artists. Our artists perform at 11 different theaters and 9 site-specific locations....

Cost: $14/single ticket + one-time purchase of a $4 Fringe button

Where:
, MN

More information

Summer Faire Announces Its 2015 Season! The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes’ popular summer concert series is back- better than ever! Don’t miss FREE live music from talented local...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Shoppes Central Courtyard
I-94/I-694 at Hemlock Lane
Maple Grove, MN
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Sponsor: The Shoppes
Telephone: 763-488-9965
Contact Name:
Website »

More information

Bollywood Dance Scene, creators of 2014's best selling MN Fringe show, return with a bigger, bolder Bollywood dance drama of original storytelling and choreography. Packed with exciting...

Cost: $14 with a $4 Fringe button

Where:
Rarig Proscenium Theater
330 21st Ave South, Second Floor
Minneapolis, MN  55455
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Sponsor: Bollywood Dance Scene
Telephone: 612-782-9836
Contact Name: Carillon RoseMeadows
Website »

More information

All Originals Jazz Series presents dā-kə-bro̵̅o̅-dā: Kevin Daley, guitar; Dave Brattain, saxophones; "Pooch" Heinie, bass; Dave Stanoch, drums. All Originals is a weekly jazz...

Cost: $10

Where:
Studio Z
275 E. 4th Street, Suite 200
St. Paul, MN  55101
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Sponsor: Studio Z
Telephone: 651-755-1600
Website »

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Opening Reception with the Artist: Thursday, August 16, 6 - 8 pm St. Croix Valley-based fiber artist Mary Giles works with metal and linen to create organic sculptural forms evocative of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Textile Center
3000 University Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN  55414
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Sponsor: Textile Center
Telephone: 612-436-0464
Contact Name: Jenny Jones
Website »

More information

The St. Catherine Choral Society invites area singers to audition for membership in preparation for their 2015 – 2016 season.  Auditions will be held at St. Catherine University,...

Cost: Free

Where:
St. Catherine University
2004 Randolph Ave.
Saint Paul, MN  55105
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Summer Group Show 2015 Featuring the artists of the Kolman & Pryor Gallery: Betsy Ruth Byers: Painting Kate Casanova: Mixed Media and Sculpture Jim Dryden: Painting Jil Evans: Painting...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Studio 395, Northrup King Building
1500 Jackson St. NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
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Sponsor: Kolman & Pryor Gallery
Telephone: 612-385-4239
Contact Name: Anita Sue Kolman
Website »

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THE SUMMER SLAUGHTER TOUR 2015 Skyway Theatre: ARCH ENEMY BORN OF OSIRIS VEIL OF MAYA THE ACACIA STRAIN OBSCURA AFTER THE BURIAL CATTLE DECAPITATION BEYOND CREATION  IMMORALIS...

Cost: $25

Where:
Skyway Theatre
, MN

More information

Come join the battle July 31-August 2! Somerset Amphitheater will host the Border Battle Weekend on its newly improved festival grounds. The event is an extension of the popular Border...

Cost: $20-$35

Where:
Somerset Amphitheater
715 Spring Street
Somerset, WI  54025
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Website »

More information

Summer at the Civic: Free Friday Concerts Patio and Grill open at 4pm, Happy Hour 4 – 6pm, Music at 5:30 – 9pm Free admission.  Rain or shine. Fresh food & cold drinks....

Cost: Free

Where:
Rochester Civic Theatre
20 Civic Center Dr. SE
Rochester, MN  55904
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Sponsor: 507 Magazine
Website »

More information

Minnesota Fringe Festival is proud to present our 174 acts, performed by both local and international touring artists. Our artists perform at 11 different theaters and 9 site-specific locations....

Cost: $14/single ticket + one-time purchase of a $4 Fringe button

Where:
, MN

More information

Summer Faire Announces Its 2015 Season! The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes’ popular summer concert series is back- better than ever! Don’t miss FREE live music from talented local...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Shoppes Central Courtyard
I-94/I-694 at Hemlock Lane
Maple Grove, MN
View map »


Sponsor: The Shoppes
Telephone: 763-488-9965
Contact Name:
Website »

More information

Join love-struck Aladdin on a treacherous journey to find a lamp like no other.  Jewels come to life in a deadly display of balanced precision, a whirlwind of demonic Jinns practice their...

Cost: $15.00 - $40.00 on sale Monday, June 29

Where:
Circus Juventas Big Top
1270 Montreal Ave.
St. Paul, MN  55116
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Sponsor: Circus Juventas
Telephone: 651-699-8229
Website »

More information

Princeton Speedway is a 1/4 mile clay banked oval located in Princeton, Minnesota inside the Mille Lacs County Fairgrounds. The dirt flies here on Friday nights throughout the summer months. On...

Cost: prices are adults $12, Senior and military are $10, and 7-17 year olds are $5

Where:
Princeton Speedway
1400 3rd St. N
Princeton, MN
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Website »

More information

Hydrive Shows and Skyway Theatre present: BOOMBOX CARTEL ARYAY MicDaddy Rare Kandy THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN Friday, July 31st The Loft @ Skyway Theatre 9pm 18+ $15...

Cost: $15

Where:
The Loft @ Skyway Theatre
711 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-333-6100
Website »

More information

Death can be scary. So can clowns. But what if they weren't? Clown siblings Victoria, Frank, and Mango mourn the loss of their mother by daring to find joy. It’s OK to laugh at this...

Cost: $14

Where:
Illusion Theater
528 Hennepin Ave, 8th Floor
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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More information

Stop in to Day Block Brewing on Friday July 31st for an evening of live music from local artists Fairfax, AK and Bre Lewis Band.  Music starts at 10pm and there will be a $5 cover charge.

Cost: $5

Where:
Day Block Brewing
1105 Washington Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55415
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Website »

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Enjoy this unique riding experience on the Mesabi Trail, NE Minnesota's premier paved bicycle trail. The tour is designed for serious riders and families alike, choose from four different...

Cost: $45 individuals / $90 families (kids ride FREE)

Where:
Mesabi Trail - Coleraine to Eveleth
P.O. Box 139
Virginia , MN  55792
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Sponsor: Great River Energy, Mesabi Trail, Ampers
Telephone: 877-637-2241
Contact Name: Ardy Wilberg
Website »

More information

The Dirty Girl Mud Run is a 3.1 mile(ish) obstacle course run for women and women ONLY! If you’re an uber cross fitter looking to make your weekend more challenging, Dirty Girl Mud...

Cost: $55-$65

Where:
Pinehaven Pumpkin Farms
28186 Kettle River Blvd. North
Wyoming, MN  55092
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Sponsor: Human Movement Management
Contact Name: Carson Morford
Website »

More information

Dash for the kids of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Join the World’s Largest Running Series as a St. Jude Warrior! Warrior Dash is the ultimate event for the thrill-seeking...

Cost: Multiple Entry Point Levels

Where:
Johnson Creek
Johnson Creek, WI  53038


Telephone: 952-893-0442
Contact Name: Matthew O'Shea
Website »

More information

Learn how to make smarter investment decisions and take control of your financial future   Invest a few life-changing hours in our Power Trading Workshop, where you’ll learn:...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online Trading Academy
7900 International Drive Suite 170
Bloomington, MN  55425
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Sponsor: Online Trading Academy
Telephone: 952-814-4410
Website »

More information

Come experience a day full of diverse brass music from mariachi to swing! This year's festival features twelve phenomenal bands from the region. Audiences of all ages will get to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bridge Square
Intersection of E 4th St. and Division St.
Northfield, MN  55057
View map »


Sponsor: Vintage Band Festival
Telephone: 507-645-7554
Website »

More information

In a Reiki II session, the student is given the first three Reiki symbols. Students will learn about: • the Power symbol • the Mental/Emotional symbol • the Distance symbol...

Cost: $175.00

Where:
Rising Sun Reiki Studio
4180 West Broadway
Suite B3
Robbinsdale, MN  55422
View map »


Sponsor: Rising Sun Reiki Studio
Telephone: 612-940-5851
Contact Name: Cyndi Stavrou
Website »

More information

Tires Plus will welcome customers and guests for an exciting community event including:   •Fun activities with Boys & Girls Club kids from Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin...

Cost: Free

Where:
Tires Plus
580 W 79Th St.
Chanhassen, MN  55317-9530
View map »

More information

Do you like a morning run or a leisurely walk? Looking for a great reason to be active? Participate in the 3rd Annual BBBS 5K Run/Walk! Enjoy the views and natural beauty that Fort Snelling...

Cost: $30 Individual $45 Match Rate

Where:
Fort Snelling State Park - Beach Area
101 Snelling Lake Road
St. Paul, MN  55111
View map »


Sponsor: SNAP Fitness

More information

Opening Reception with the Artist: Thursday, August 16, 6 - 8 pm St. Croix Valley-based fiber artist Mary Giles works with metal and linen to create organic sculptural forms evocative of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Textile Center
3000 University Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN  55414
View map »


Sponsor: Textile Center
Telephone: 612-436-0464
Contact Name: Jenny Jones
Website »

More information

Artist from around the world converge at Franconia to create cast metal sculpture and we invite the public to participate in this unique art-making process! Witness artist working a furnace that...

Cost: Free

Where:
Franconia Sculpture Park
29836 St. Croix Trail
Shafer, MN  55074
View map »


Sponsor: Franconia Sculpture Park
Telephone: 651-257-6668
Website »

More information

HazelFest, presented by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, is a day-long chemical-free community festival that features bands, recovery speakers, exhibitors, food trucks, and family...

Cost: $15-$25

Where:
Hazelden Campus
15251 Pleasant Valley Rd.
Center City, MN  55012
View map »


Sponsor: Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
Telephone: 763-300-1218
Contact Name: Jeannette Cleland
Website »

More information

Nershfest. It’s music. It’s friends. It’s a Minnesota summer day. It’s also the name of the Minneapolis-based music festival featuring local live music, craft beer and great...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harriet Brewing Company
3036 Minnehaha Ave
Minneapolis, MN  55406
View map »


Sponsor: Nershfest
Telephone: 336-402-2439
Contact Name: Griffin
Website »

More information

Captain Terry will hold a public cruise this Saturday August 1, 2015. 12:30pm - 2:30 pm

Cost: $14

Where:
Lady of the Lake Docks
8 Water Street
Excelsior, MN  55331
View map »


Sponsor: Lady of the Lake
Telephone: 952-929-1209
Contact Name: Terry Jungers
Website »

More information

Come join the battle July 31-August 2! Somerset Amphitheater will host the Border Battle Weekend on its newly improved festival grounds. The event is an extension of the popular Border...

Cost: $20-$35

Where:
Somerset Amphitheater
715 Spring Street
Somerset, WI  54025
View map »


Website »

More information

The fourth Kräftskiva! festival will bring The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar out onto the streets of Minneapolis for the evening – shutting down 2nd Ave North alongside The...

Cost: $20

Where:
The Bachelor Farmer
50 2nd Ave N
Minneapolis, MN  55401
View map »


Sponsor: The Bachelor Farmer
Telephone: 612-206-3920
Website »

More information

Minnesota Fringe Festival is proud to present our 174 acts, performed by both local and international touring artists. Our artists perform at 11 different theaters and 9 site-specific locations....

Cost: $14/single ticket + one-time purchase of a $4 Fringe button

Where:
, MN

More information

Summer Faire Announces Its 2015 Season! The Shoppes at Arbor Lakes’ popular summer concert series is back- better than ever! Don’t miss FREE live music from talented local...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Shoppes Central Courtyard
I-94/I-694 at Hemlock Lane
Maple Grove, MN
View map »


Sponsor: The Shoppes
Telephone: 763-488-9965
Contact Name:
Website »

More information

Join love-struck Aladdin on a treacherous journey to find a lamp like no other.  Jewels come to life in a deadly display of balanced precision, a whirlwind of demonic Jinns practice their...

Cost: $15.00 - $40.00 on sale Monday, June 29

Where:
Circus Juventas Big Top
1270 Montreal Ave.
St. Paul, MN  55116
View map »


Sponsor: Circus Juventas
Telephone: 651-699-8229
Website »

More information

The Oratorio Society of Minnesota is proud to announce the concert GREAT OPERA CHORUSES, which will be presented by the Society’s Summer Chorus, a festival chorus of 150 singers, and a...

Cost: $10-15

Where:
Ted Mann Concert Hall
2128 S 4th St
Minneapolis, MN  55455
View map »


Sponsor: Oratorio Society
Telephone: 612-432-7398
Contact Name: Matthew Mehaffey
Website »

More information

Death can be scary. So can clowns. But what if they weren't? Clown siblings Victoria, Frank, and Mango mourn the loss of their mother by daring to find joy. It’s OK to laugh at this...

Cost: $14

Where:
Illusion Theater
528 Hennepin Ave, 8th Floor
Minneapolis, MN  55403
View map »

More information

Stop in to Day Block Brewing on Friday July 31st for an evening of live music from local artists Fairfax, AK and Bre Lewis Band.  Music starts at 10pm and there will be a $5 cover charge.

Cost: $5

Where:
Day Block Brewing
1105 Washington Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55415
View map »


Website »

More information

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